Student-run store sells student-designed products at WHS

Contributed photo courtesy Washougal School District Washougal High School marketing student Samantha Mcray-Smith (left) and business teacher Nicole Simek checks for inventory at the Washougal Co student store in November.

Washougal High School marketing student Samantha Mcray-Smith assists a customer at the Washougal Co student store in November. (Contributed photo courtesy Washougal School District)

Washougal High School’s (WHS) new student store has been an immediate hit with students and staff members alike.

“We’ve had really great feedback,” said WHS business teacher Nicole Simek. “The first run that we went through sold out very fast. I wasn’t anticipating us going through the merchandise so quickly. Keeping the store stocked has been my learning curve because it has been so popular and well received. (But) we’re getting a handle on it now — we’re fully stocked up and ready to go. It feels good.”

Washougal Co, a student-run store that sells student-designed products, opened for business in the WHS lunchroom on Friday, Nov. 18, selling Panther-branded T-shirts, crew-neck sweatshirts and lanyards.

“It (teaches students about) business ownership and all of the pieces that go under that umbrella — marketing your product, creating your product,” said Margaret Rice, the Washougal School District’s director of career and technical education. “The other piece is confidence building. Students learn by doing things and having different experiences, they become more confident in their skills and their knowledge and what they’ve learned, and they find their voice.

“(They say things that) they may not have said before because they weren’t feeling as confident about what they were bringing to the table.”

The store, which takes the form of a mobile kiosk, opens for student purchases every other Friday during the lunch hour.

“By working on this project, I learned about profit, how to sell things and how to grab peoples’ attention,” WHS marketing student Samantha Mcray-Smith said. “I also realized that some days are easier to make sales than others.”

School leaders began laying the groundwork for Washougal Co during the 2021-22 school year.

“We had a lot of demand or requests for a student store, especially to service Panthers gear,” Rice said. “We visited several other schools that had successful student stores, and we learned a lot. It was really great.”

They quickly determined that they wouldn’t be able to anchor their store in a permanent location, however, and pivoted to the kiosk idea.

“We (saw that) space is at a premium; we would have had (to do) a total remodel to try and figure out how to create the same types of student stores that some of those other schools had,” Rice said. “So we got really creative, knowing pop-up stores are really kind of ‘in’ and popular right now. There were a lot of benefits to doing that. It’s on wheels, so we can move it. It is contained, and it locks. It was a lot less expensive to start it up that way. It (provided) a lot of flexibility and allowed us to design it and develop it how we wanted to, and the students had a lot of input.”

Simek then asked her marketing students to generate a variety of designs and logos that could be affixed to the apparel.

“From there, we workshopped those designs, found some similarities and combined (some of the submissions),” Simek said. “We had a huge collaborative effort in taking different designs and figuring out what would be appealing. We also took the designs to the Associated Student Body as well, and they picked designs that we ended up incorporating. It was a really great learning process in design and collaborative teamwork, to go from brainstorming an idea to ‘Here it is on our shirt (and we’re) selling it now.'”

The students order the apparel through local vendors, work with a local screen-printing company to affix their designs on the apparel, operate the store, and update the store’s social media accounts.

“To have that group feel of, ‘We did this, we created this, this was from us,’ and to provide merchandise to students who aren’t in sports or clubs, (is really special),” Simek said. “(It’s great) to bring everybody together to say, ‘We’re all Panthers, and we all have merchandise to show that we’re a part of this community.'”

The school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club members provide assistance by tracking inventory and processing orders.

“The FBLA students learn more in-depth about marketing and branding and take (their education) to another level,” Rice said. “A lot of our FBLA students compete at the regional, state, and hopefully national level, so they can take that learning and (apply it to those competitions). It really helps.”

The store doesn’t just provide students with an opportunity to learn new skills, but also a chance to pass along their skills to their peers, according to Simek.

“It’s been really fun because students who have outside work experience are bringing those skills and sharing them,” Simek said. “Some of them know how to take orders, so they were the ones dictating to me, ‘Hey, listen, if we’re taking orders, we need to have a sheet of paper that says how many ‘smalls’ are left so I don’t accidentally (oversell).’ They’re teaching others who don’t have that work experience. It just gives me chills just thinking about it. It was really, really fun to (watch them) teach each other.

“I like that they are going from absolutely nothing and seeing their creative process turn it into something tangible,” she continued. “With entrepreneurship and marketing, you can’t get complacent, so they’re looking for new challenges while they’re learning. They’re continuously trying to improve. We can teach them the skills, but that creativity, that will to want to continue to improve, I think is really important. They can take risks in a nice, controlled environment. It’s been a great opportunity for them.”

The students also launched an online store to expand their sales reach to the greater community. The online store, which can be accessed via the WHS website, will be open through Tuesday, Dec. 20, and offers products such as sweatpants, hooded sweatshirts and beanies that aren’t available at the kiosk.

“We thought (the online option was) a nice way to launch, to provide that opportunity to our community,” Rice said. “Also, knowing that the holidays are coming up, maybe (people) want to get (our products) for themselves or for their children or their spouses.”

Simek said that she would like to open the online store again in the future as well.

“If the demand is there, absolutely,” she said. “We definitely want to serve all of our community. Because this is a student store and it’s open during school hours during lunch, it doesn’t really present itself to community orders. Right now, we’re just filling this one need, but the community also has a need. (The online store) has different options and makes it a lot easier for the community to order.”

Rice and Simek also hope that the students can open the kiosk at sporting events and explore possible partnerships with the school’s athletic squads at some point in the future as well.

Washougal Co is a fundraiser for FBLA, a nonprofit corporation which prepares students to become community-minded business leaders in a global society through relevant career preparation and leadership experiences.

“Whatever we’re earning, (we put right back into the business to) create merchandise and restock,” Simek said. “The reason we picked T-shirts and crews and lanyards is because we are trying to be price sensitive for students as well. The profit margin is not as great as you would see in a regular retail setting, and that’s (due to) a lot of the conversation we had about trying to pick merchandise that didn’t have five different screens and five different colors because that would price out our goal of being able to offer items (to everybody).”